Indian scientists appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to publicly release virus data they say would allow them to save lives as COVID-19 cases climbed again on Friday, prompting the army to open its hospitals in a desperate bid to control a massive humanitarian crisis.
With 386,452 new cases, India now has reported more than 18.7 million since the pandemic began, second only to the United States. The health ministry on Friday also reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it’s unclear by how much.
India’s pandemic response has been marred by insufficient data. The online appeal signed by more than 350 scientists Friday afternoon asks government to release data about the sequencing of virus variants, testing, recovered patients and how people were responding to vaccines.
The appeal says that “granular” data on testing was inaccessible to non-government experts and some government experts, too.
Modelling work to predict future surges was being done by government-appointed experts with insufficient information. Similarly, scientists had failed to get information that would allow them to predict how many beds, oxygen or intensive care facilities would be needed, it said.
Meanwhile, several Indian states have run out of COVID-19 vaccines a day before a planned widening of a nationwide inoculation drive, authorities said on Friday, as new infections surged to another daily high.
Families continued to flood social media and messaging apps with pleas for help: oxygen, beds, medicines, intensive care units and wood for funeral pyres.
India’s army chief, M.M. Naravane, said the sick can approach their nearest army hospitals for help. Troops were also assisting with imported oxygen tankers and vehicles where specialized skills are required, a government statement said.
India has set a daily global record for more than a week with an average of nearly 350,000 infections. Daily deaths have nearly tripled in the past three weeks, reflecting the intensity of the latest surge.
What’s happening across Canada
As of early Friday morning, Canada had reported 1,211,089 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 83,452 considered active. A CBC tally of deaths stood at 24,169.
In Atlantic Canada, health officials on Thursday reported 82 cases of COVID-19, with 70 of the new cases in Nova Scotia.
In Quebec, health officials reported 1,042 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 10 additional deaths. COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 623, with 165 people in intensive care. The update came as the province expanded its vaccine eligibility, allowing people between 50 and 59 to begin booking appointments Friday.
“The sky is starting to clear and we’re seeing rays of sunshine,” Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday, as the province unveiled its plan for making the vaccine eligible to all adults.
In Ontario, meanwhile, officials are forecasting everyone over the age of 18 will be able to book a shot by May 24. The province planned to lower the age eligibility for mass vaccination clinics to 55 and older starting on Friday.
Ontario reported 3,871 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 41 additional deaths. COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 2,248, with 884 people in ICU due to COVID-related illness.
Across the Prairies on Thursday, Manitoba reported 230 new cases and two additional deaths. The update came as Premier Brian Pallister announced that teachers in the province will be able to get their vaccine — in North Dakota.
In Saskatchewan, health officials reported 205 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.
Alberta is targeting COVID-19 hot spots with tighter restrictions that include at-home learning for junior and senior high school students and a ban on indoor fitness and sports. Alberta reported 2,048 new cases and three additional deaths.
In British Columbia, health officials reported 853 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and one additional death. COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 503, with 178 patients in intensive care.
Across the North, Nunavut reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. There were no new cases reported by health officials in Yukon or the Northwest Territories.
What’s happening around the world
As of early Wednesday morning, more than 150.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a coronavirus tracking database maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.1 million.
In the Americas, a record surge in COVID-19 infections in Costa Rica forced the government to announce new restrictions Thursday that will dial back the country’s economic reopening. Health Minister Daniel Salas said that in the prior 24-hour period, Costa Rica had tallied 2,781 new infections, the highest daily total since the country’s first case was confirmed in March 2020.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Pakistan’s minister for planning and development warned that the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients is rapidly increasing and the next few weeks will be crucial. Asad Umar, who oversees Pakistan’s response to the coronavirus, said as many as 5,360 patients with COVID-19 were on oxygen support at hospitals.
Residents in Cambodia’s capital gathered to demand food from the government, outraged at what they called inadequate aid distribution during a tough lockdown that bars people from leaving their homes.
In Europe, residents of Portugal will be able to go to cinemas, stores and restaurants on Saturday night as the country continues its gradual easing of a prolonged COVID-19 lockdown. The land border with neighbouring Spain will also reopen from Saturday after closing to non-essential travel in January, when Portugal had the distinction of being the country hit worst by the pandemic by size of population.
Italy, meanwhile, is nearing its goal of administering half a million COVID-19 vaccines a day.
In Africa, Uganda has detected the Indian variant, stirring fears the East African nation could suffer a resurgence of cases just when its outbreak has waned, a senior health official said.
In the Middle East, the number of reported COVID-19 cases was approaching 2.5 million, with more than 71,300 reported deaths.
With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press and Reuters
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